Moonraker
James Bond
Ultimate Collection, Vol. 4
U.K. - France | 1979
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Starring
Roger Moore
Lois Chiles
Michael Lonsdale
Color
| 130 Minutes | PG
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC | 2-disc set)
MGM Home Entertainment
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2009 Blu-ray edition

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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
4
    10   10 = Highest Rating  
One of the films in The James Bond Ultimate Collection, Vol. 4
DVD Rating is for entire 10-disc box set
James Bond's biggest cinematic turd. No, really. Despite its considerable technical achievements and popularity at the box-office, Moonraker is far and away the worst of the 007 films made by EON Productions since 1962. It's a big, thundering brain-dead mess that moves from one set-piece to the next, as villain Hugo Drax would say, "with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season." In his fourth appearance as Bond, Roger Moore is strictly on autopilot, smarmily arching his eyebrow at every dangerous turn in the plot. Lois Chiles' performance as the ill-named Dr. Goodhead is wooden, even by Bond Girl standards; while sufficiently sinister, Michael Lonsdale's Drax looks uncannily like a goateed Richard Nixon in a Mao jacket. Super-strong baddie Jaws, a fun character in the enjoyable comic book Bond entry The Spy Who Loved Me, even finds a girlfriend in one of the dumbest moments ever in a 007 film.
    The U.S. space shuttle Moonraker is hijacked in midair as it's being transported to Britain atop a Boeing 747, destroying the jetliner in the process. (This is utterly impossible, since shuttles can't take off without a booster rocket, nor would one be given a 'piggyback' ride while loaded with fuel to begin with.) There are no surviving witnesses to Moonraker's vanishing act. Secret agent James Bond must find out the who and the why of the craft's disappearance without a single clue to go on. He decides to interview the superrich industrialist who's been building shuttles for the U.S. government, the space-obsessed Hugo Drax. Bond takes one look at Drax and instantly knows he's up to no good.
(Remember, he resembles Nixon in a Mao jacket.) Drax immediately confirms Bond's suspicions by trying to have him assassinated numerous times. Teaming up with foxy NASA scientist/CIA agent Holly Goodhead, Bond eventually discovers that Drax has constructed a secret shuttle-launching base deep in the Amazon jungle, and that something big is afoot. What could Drax be planning? And why did he steal a shuttle built by his own company? Bond won't live to find out, not if Drax's newly hired enforcer Jaws (Richard Kiel) has anything to say about the matter...
    Basically a remake of Thunderball* (substituting astronauts for frogmen), Moonraker is riddled with plot holes big enough to pilot a space shuttle through. For one: Why does Drax make the most blatantly obvious attempts on Bond's life? 007 has no real evidence of wrongdoing on Drax's part, so his death under mysterious circumstances would serve only to point the finger of suspicion directly at the industrialist. For another: Despite a powerful radar jamming system, how can Drax expect to hide a personal orbiting death star big enough to be seen from Earth with the naked eye? The answer, of course, is bad writing. Boiled down, the film is nothing more than a live-action Road Runner cartoon with Bond as the perpetually elusive bird and gigantic henchman Jaws as Wile E. Coyote. And it's a wonder that Moore didn't use a stuntman to open doors or walk up stairs. The younger, more athletic Timothy Dalton should've taken over the role after this one. Instead we got an increasingly geriatric 007 for three more films,
the "Grandpa Bond Trilogy" (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill).
    It's a shame that so much money and hard work went into making 007's silliest adventure. Moonraker is the direct antithesis of the first Connery Bonds, the Dalton films, and especially Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. I realize that it's tailored specifically to Moore's 'Bond-Lite' characterization, but did they have to take it to such ridiculous lengths? Never once does the über-unflappable Bond seem in any genuine danger, even when thrown out of an airplane without a parachute. (The absolute nadir of an already low point in the series comes during the gondola chase through Venice, when a pigeon does a comedic double-take at Bond's antics
yes, a bird.) While I personally prefer the harder edge and more realistic tone of the Dalton, Craig and early Connery pics, this isn't to say that a 'cartoon' 007 just doesn't work; The Spy Who Loved Me and to a lesser extent You Only Live Twice are genuinely fun over-the-top Bonds. But Moonraker crosses the boundary into self-destructive self-parody. The imaginative sets, impressive effects and parade of yummy babes (Hitch-Hike's Corinne Clery among them) can't save it. It's the James Bond film that comes closest to being like the campy, inferior 007 rip-offs and spoofs. Dammit, if I want to watch a Matt Helm movie I'll watch a Matt Helm movie.
* Even down to the 'Bond threatened by runaway machine' sequence... In Thunderball it's a therapeutic stretching table, in Moonraker a G-force simulator.

Coinciding with the Fall 2006 theatrical release of Casino Royale, MGM Home Entertainment (now controlled by Sony Corp.) is issuing for the third bloody time! the previous 20 James Bond films on DVD. This isn't a simple repackaging, however, as all the films have been completely remastered, frame-by-frame, by Lowry Digital Imaging. As good as the earlier discs are they can't hold a candle to these new "Ultimate" editions. (Judging by this and the other titles that I've scanned, the visual improvement is remarkable especially with the films from the '60s and '70s.) Every Bond flick has been given a completely new audio makeover as well.
    Presented two discs per title, in space-saving "slim-line" cases, the Bond sagas are boxed five titles to a set, in non-chronological order. (A booklet of liner notes is included for each film.) People have groused that they can't purchase favorite titles individually you're stuck with A View to a Kill if you want Thunderball, for example but the price is certainly right. As part of these box sets it works out to around ten or twelve bucks per movie. (Moonraker is contained in Ultimate Collection Volume 4, released in tandem with Volume 3 on December 12, 2006.)
    This new Ultimate edition of Moonraker presents the film on Disc 1, with various audio choices including commentaries. The new anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is absolutely flawless, making the movie look even better than it did during its original theatrical run if not for the distinctly '70s fashions and vehicles it could be a first-run feature in the cineplex today. The film can be played with freshly concocted 5.1 Surround (English or French) and DTS (English only) mixes, or the original Dolby Digital Surround. Two separate commentary tracks are available. One of these, ported over from the previous DVD release, features director Lewis Gilbert, screenwriter Christopher Wood, and producers Michael G. Wilson and William P. Cartlidge. The other is one of seven new commentaries recorded by Sir Roger Moore expressly for the Ultimate editions of his Bond films. While the multi-participant track naturally focuses on the making of Moonraker, Moore's is a personal memoir a "one-sided conversation", he calls it that strays from the subject at hand to encompass a host of topics. Moore, now 79, freely admits that he can't recall that much nuts-and-bolts detail of the actual production (he hasn't seen his Bond pics in many years), so instead he discusses events and people that spring to mind as spurred by the film. He also talks about some of his other film work outside of the 007 franchise as well as his popular '60s TV series The Saint. A true English gentleman of the old school, Moore refrains from making disparaging remarks about anyone (at least by name), preferring to share warm and positive anecdotes about the many interesting, talented people he's known and worked with in the course of his long career. He's charming and funny, much like his Bond screen persona.
    Disc 2 contains the balance of the extras, both old and new. Carried over from the previous DVD is the terrific documentary Inside Moonraker (42 min.), detailing the film's concept and production (with some fascinating tidbits on the extensive special effects work), along with The Men Behind the Mayhem (19 min.), a sketchy overview of Bond movie FX highlights spanning 1962's Dr. No to The World is Not Enough (1999).
Also carried over from the old DVD are the image galleries and theatrical trailer. New to the Ultimate Edition are five short featurettes. Ken Adam's Production Films consists of home movie footage of the incredible sets being built for Moonraker, narrated by the master designer himself; Bond '79 showcases vintage on-the-set interviews of Moore, Chiles, Lewis Gilbert and producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. 007 in Rio is a promotional piece shot during filming, showing cast and crew at work (and play). Skydiving Test Footage is an interesting look at the pre-production trial and error that went into creating Moonraker's celebrated opening sequence. Circus Footage provides glimpses of a proposed ending to the pre-title sequence (Jaws crashing into a circus tent) that was ultimately scrapped.
    Last and definitely least is the 007 Mission Control feature, an almost complete but not total waste of disc space. It consists of simple highlight clips from the movie, divided into categories (Women, Villains, Allies, Combat, etc.) The only cool aspect of this feature is the ability to play the main titles sequence with all the text lettering removed. 12/18/06
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